Detainee deal revives GOP hopes to take offensive on terrorism issues

Friday, September 22nd 2006, 9:41 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republicans hope that an accord reached between the Bush administration and GOP senators on the treatment of terror-war detainees means the party can go on a campaign-season offensive on the issue of protecting the country.

The deal, if passed next week by Congress as planned, would end an embarrassing two-week stretch of headlines on GOP infighting and allow the United States to go back to full speed on interrogations and permit the president to begin prosecuting terrorists linked to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

``I'm pleased to say that this agreement preserves the single most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks,'' the president said after agreement was announced on one of his top remaining priorities of the year.

White House press secretary Tony Snow said Friday that the House, in particular, appeared ready to move on the agreement, saying GOP leaders there ``feel a sense of urgency about getting this done before everybody leaves town at the end of next week.''

The agreement contains concessions by both sides, though the White House yielded ground on two of the most contentious issues: It agreed to drop one provision that would have narrowly interpreted international standards of prisoner treatment and another allowing defendants to be convicted on evidence they never see.

Instead, the accord explicitly states that the president must live within the confines of the Geneva Convention standards. It enumerates acts that constitute a war crime, including torture, rape, biological experiments, and cruel and inhuman treatment.

The agreement would grant Congress' permission for Bush to convene military tribunals to prosecute terrorism suspects, a process the Supreme Court had blocked in June because it had not been authorized by lawmakers.

During those trials, coerced testimony would be admissible if a judge allows and if it was obtained before cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment was forbidden by a 2005 law. Bush wanted to allow all such testimony, while three maverick Republican senators _ John McCain of Arizona, John Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina _ had wanted to exclude it.

The central sticking point had been a demand by the three senators that there be no attempt to redefine U.S. obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

``We got what we wanted, and that is the preservation of the Geneva Conventions,'' McCain said Friday on NBC's ``Today'' show. ``There will be no more torture. There will be no more mistreatment of prisoners that violates standards of conduct we would expect of people who work for the United States of America.''

One potential issue that lingers and could be a problem for House-Senate conferees on the final version of the bill is the question of how to protect classified information which might be brought into evidence in a military tribunal.

Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said he felt ``very confident'' that the issue could be ironed out in negotiations still to come.

Republicans used the deal on detainee treatment to put the heat back on Democrats as lawmakers prepare to leave Washington at the end of the month to campaign for the Nov. 7 midterm elections.

Republicans are fighting to maintain their majority in Congress by touting their toughness on national security issues, while Democrats are pointing to the violence in Iraq and high cost of the war as GOP blunders.

The agreement was hailed by human rights groups and seen by many as the president caving in when his usual Republican support crumbled. But White House officials said the end result includes enough legal protection for the CIA program to continue.

After weeks of stalled talks, Senate leaders Thursday morning demanded resolution of the impasse. Warner, McCain and Graham met with administration officials throughout the day, finally emerging with an agreement in which both sides claimed victory.

Snow said White House lawyers are still reviewing the deal to see whether an executive order from Bush is needed. ``I'm not sure it's compulsory,'' Snow said. ``Maybe we need it, maybe we don't.''

The president's other priority in the war on terror involves legislation to explicitly allow wiretapping without a court warrant on international calls and e-mails between suspected terrorists in the United States and abroad.

One official said Republicans had narrowed their differences with the White House over that issue, as well, and hoped for an agreement soon.

About 450 terrorism suspects, most of them captured in Afghanistan and none of them in the U.S., are being held by military authorities at Guantanamo Bay. Ten have been charged with crimes.